Geekly Redux: Samurai Jack

By Jonathan Bussler on

About Jonathan Bussler

9 3/4 level Dwarven barbarian and level 7 Pokémon Trainer | @WurfStoneborn on Twitter

 

With Geekly Redux, we revisit our childhood favorites and determine whether or not they hold up.


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“Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil! But a foolish samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law! Now the fool seeks to return to the past, and undo the future that is Aku!”

Goddamn I love that opening. Samurai Jack will finally air it’s long awaited last season starting on March 11, 2017, after 13 years since the show left our small screens. Season 5 of Samurai Jack will air on Adult Swim’s Toonami block of programming and I, for one, cannot be more excited and boy does it look amazing.

In anticipation of the new season, I went back and rewatched the series with my toddler son to prep myself for it’s season 5 closure. I asked myself: does the show still hold up? Let’s find out, but first, a little history.

Samurai Jack was created by Genndy Tartakovsky, a talented animator who also created the highly successful Dexter’s Laboratory for Cartoon Network. Inspired by the lack of good action cartoons on American television, he decided to make one of his own. He loved Akira Kurosawa films, like Seven Samurai, and comic books by Frank Miller, such as 300 and Ronin.

The story of Samurai Jack is fairly simple: an unnamed prince (played by character and voice actor, Phil LaMarr) from Feudal Japan fighting a shape-shifting evil demon named Aku (played by the late, legendary Japanese actor Mako). The prince is banished far into a dystopian future where Aku’s evil rules the universe. In this future world, our hero is nicknamed “Jack” by a group he meets when he first arrives. This world has great technologies and magic. Jack only has his training and a magical katana which was owned by his father. Each episode follows Jack as he tries to make his way back to the past and restore the world without Aku. In most episodes, Jack is alone but a few times, there are recurring characters like the Scotsman, who is played wonderfully by John DiMaggio, who you may remember as Bender in Futurama or Jake on Adventure Time.

The series had a wide range of themes and ranged from a light-hearted comedic romp to a dark and serious tone and everything in-between. Every episode was cinematic and told epic stories. In the 52 episodes, you can find a 1920’s style gangster story, epic space battles, retellings of ancient Greek myths and subtle references to properties such as Conan the Barbarian and Star Wars. This was a great show.

So, does it hold up?

Oh my god yes!!!

I was born in Japan so I might have some biases, but instantly fell in love with the show the first time I watched it. I love samurai stories and anything that’s traditionally Japanese. The show was a hit and it still holds up well. During its initial run, the series won four Emmys and you can tell why. Hell, it made the several lists of the greatest animated series of all time (43rd on IGN’s Top 100 Animated Series in 2009).

The number one thing I noticed was the storytelling. Genndy Tartakovsky seems to be a master of the essence of film-making techniques. As a fan of films, I am fascinated by his clever use of editing to tell his stories. I may just be getting old but nowadays, tv shows have so much action and are so fast paced, it rarely gives the audience time to breath. There are episodes where we follow Jack for several minutes to just find a stream where he can take a drink of water. The pacing can slow and deliberate or it can be full of action but with those slower moments, you get to take in the beauty of the art. And that is what this show is: Art.

I remembered the show being good but I forgot how good it was. If you’re a fan of sci-fi or traditional Japanese tales or just plain good old storytelling, please do yourself a favor and watch (or rewatch) this show.

Did your son like it?

Absolutely.  He made me proud [single tear drop]. He would sit on my lap and watch a whole episode, which is quite the feat for a toddler.

Is there any hope for the Samurai Jack Franchise?

I hope so. With the fifth and final season fast approaching, I hope there is a renewed interest in the public consciousness for this show. Season 5 looks like it’ll be much darker and adult oriented than we’ve previously seen him. It definitely looks as though the series “grew up” and is targeted to the the fans of the original show.

The final episodes will show Jack 50 years later. He hasn’t aged but is hardened and sports a wicked beard. He seems to have lost his sword. The trailer doesn’t show Aku, but it does have a band of female assassins who seem to follow Aku. I’m curious of how the show will deal with Mako’s death in 2006.

Cartoon Network seems to know that Samurai Jack is much loved as I’ve recently seen him on board games and video games. Jack also made a cameo appearance on Cartoon Network’s Uncle Grandpa show. There is a comic book series based on Samurai Jack published by IDW Publishing that ran from October 2013 to May 2015 but those are considered non-canon. Genndy Tartakovsky has stated before that there is always a possibility of a live action film. Until then I will cross my fingers and continue to hope.

You can catch all four seasons of Samurai Jack on Hulu.

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